Making a livin’ the old hard way
Taking and giving my day by day
I dig the snow and the rain and bright sunshine.
Draggin’ the line (draggin’ the line).
The ride back to town seemed shorter than the ride out. Emma had found a 70’s radio station and sang along with the songs she knew. Emma found a little family owned hardware store and she popped in to purchase some rubber gloves usually used for painting and refinishing furniture. She found the Storybrooke Inn not hard, there was just the one main street and checked herself in. She verified that her crew had rooms reserved. It was only five in the afternoon, so she opted to take a nap.
The Inn was typical bed and breakfast with lotsa frou-frou. There was floral chintz on the white cast-iron bed and pillow shams with lace ruffling piled two deep on the bed. The rough hardwood floor was covered with a braided rug. There was also an old style dressing table with a big mirror along one side of the room. At least this room came with a private bath—Emma had thought that was worth the extra thirty a night she was paying. Her uneven hours had taught her to sleep whenever an opportunity arose. She had wanted to look at the diary but felt that it had kept for a couple of hundred years so would likely keep a couple of more hours.
Reluctantly, Emma put the dairy on the dressing table.
She then crashed onto the bed, not even bothering to remove her serviceable boots. She lay on her back with her feet off the bed. She caught a glimpse of a ceiling fan before she nodded out.
She heard something in her sleep.
There it was again.
Was someone calling her?
She was awake now. She thought she had heard someone calling her name. It had seemed to come from far away. She lay still and listened.
There she heard it again.
And there was knocking on the door.
“Leroy? Is that you?” she called out. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly seven. She’d been out for almost two hours.
“We’re here.” Leroy stated the obvious.
Emma slid off the bed and headed for the door. “You don’t have to keep calling me. I’m up, already.”
“Hey, I just got here and only called you once, gimme a break,” said grumpy Leroy.
“Yeah right, well, come on in. You guys had supper yet?”
“Nah. We just pulled in. Those undergrad students you got together are a bunch of ripe winners. Where’d you pick them up?”
“They signed up for this, did exceptionally well in class and on a couple of easy over-nighters. I don’t screen them, you know that. I just pick them out of a hat,” Emma told him.
Emma’s Psychology of the Paranormal was a course so popular at the small college where she taught that the school had instituted a lottery system to select students from all those who would sign up. It was limited to a mere ten thirty students for each mini-semester when it was scheduled. From each of these classes, Emma would pick five students. These select students were given the opportunity to participate in one multi-overnight investigation.
Leroy was one of her regulars, not a student . . . her tech man, responsible for equipment and manning the central command post. By day he had his own plumbing business and was as solid as any piece of porcelain that he had ever installed. He drove the van with the heavy equipment.
Coming along in a second, smaller van was Jefferson. Emma had had Jefferson as a student three years prior and he had so impressed her that she'd asked him to accompany her on a few more outings. He was erratic, unpredictable . . . and brilliant and ingenious. He was now a grad student in business and marketing, no less, having shared that he wanted to open his own store for men’s apparel, eventually establishing his own line of men’s clothing. Emma had initially thought he was gay but had soon found out that Jefferson was totally into women when he had hit unsuccessfully on her. She thought of him as a very good friend and felt that was how he regarded her also. . . at least she thought that was how he regarded her.
Emma had gone into the washroom to splash water on her face to help her wake up. “Be with you in a jiff,” she called out to Leroy.
“I saw a diner,” Leroy told her. “Jefferson and the peons are waiting there hoping we can get some supper.”
“I had lunch there. It’s fine,” Emma assured him.
She and Leroy went down the stairs and out to his van. Leroy drove them down the road to the diner where they connected with Jefferson and this term’s five randomly selected team members, already settled in. They had pushed two four-seater tables together to make room for the eight members of the team.
There was Rory Dubonet, a very pretty, baby-faced girl whose daddy was the head of an oil company and filthy rich. Although she often came over spacey, Emma knew that Rory was serious and hardworking and Emma also happened to know that Rory’s typical score on the Zener cards was eighty-one.
The attractive petite oriental girl sitting next to her was Millie Chung. Emma knew her father was a world-class martial arts expert and, stereotypes aside, she had always suspected that Millie was quite adept at protecting herself. Another serious, focused student.
The first male student she came to at the table was Archie Hopper. He was a grad student working on his Ph.D. in psychology. He was a little older than the others, and like the first two was serious, focused, mature. Emma liked him. Dependable was what she thought when she considered Archie.
Next was a pretty little brunette with dark green eyes, Clarissa. She was a Library Science major and bubbly and pleasant. Emma knew she wasn’t flighty, just optimistic and cheerful. She made a nice addition to the team.
The last member of the investigation group was Colin Hooker. He was a tall, very nice looking young man. Emma probably knew the least about him. He certainly fancied himself as a ladies’ man, having hit on nearly every female member of the group, including Emma. He was clever and decisive and Emma felt, despite some of her other misgivings about the man, that he too could be a positive addition to the team.
The team was excited. This was the first serious investigation they had been on, with of course the exception of Jefferson and Leroy.
The slutty waitress, obviously still on duty, came by and greeted Emma and the rest of the group. As she efficiently took everyone’s orders, Emma couldn’t help but smile as the men in her group watched the woman open-mouthed. She flirted with each and every man in the group and smiled and praised each woman at the table.
“The lasagna is excellent,” she complimented Rory’s selection.
“I’m getting that too,” said Jefferson immediately.
After the orders were taken and the group had settled in to sip their iced tea, Rory asked, “How did you get into this Dr. Swan?”
Emma winced. “It’s not a pretty story. Are you sure you want to hear it?” Emma asked the group and was greeted with all around nods.
“Well, many of you know that I grew up in a series of different foster homes. I was in a really nice one for a while but then the dad got a job out of state and they couldn’t take me with them. I was ten years old at that time. The next home I went into was . . . it was . . . bad. They called it The Farm and they had a lot of kids there, apparently using us for their primary income.”
Emma paused. “Well my first night there I began hearing voices, two different ones, coming up from under my bed. I was being told to get out, run away, save myself. I figured some of the other kids were trying to scare me but when I confronted them, they all got quiet-like and wouldn’t talk about it.”
Emma stopped while the food was set on the table and then began again, “We didn’t have a lot of food there and we had a lot of chores we had to do, working on the farm, long days from dawn to late evenings. They were supposed to be home-schooling us, but that was a joke.”
She took a bite of her food, “The other kids had warned me not to act up. They told me that the foster parents had this hole dug in the back yard and if you acted up they would put you out in it for the night or even longer. They’d cover up the hole with some plywood so you’d be left in this deep hole in the ground in the dark. They were out in the country so nobody could hear if you started screaming.”
Emma took another bite of food, oblivious to the response of her audience. “Well, with everything else and the voices, which I was now hearing every single night, I decided I wanted out of there. I knew that being bad wouldn’t get me out, so I faked being sick. Complained about my stomach hurting, made myself throw up a couple of times, ran the thermometer under hot water and spiked a fever. They didn’t want a sick kid so they handed me back to the state.”
Emma took a drink and continued. “Then when I was fifteen I read about the place. Apparently some child porn surfaced with several of the kids who’d been at The Farm starring in lead roles. Social Services investigated. Along with the child porn, the foster parents had reported a couple of their kids as runaways, so somebody got the bright idea to bring in cadaver dogs, who went right to the basement, which was under the room I’d been in. Come to find out, there were two bodies of kids down there. The law decided that some of the ‘disciplinary’ practices used on The Farm had gone too far and the two had died in separate incidents. The family had buried them in the basement underneath my room to cover up the crime.”
Emma stretched. “Anyway, I’d always wondered what had actually happened, if these dead kids had been warning me or if I had just picked up the sinister vibes from the place or just what? So I started investigating paranormal phenomenon on my own, then joined a group of investigators and then formed my own group and . . . ta da.”
“Yeah, and then she did her doctoral dissertation on the psychology of fear,” Leroy told the group.
“And that turned into the best seller, Waking Fear,” Archie Hopper shared this information with some reverence.
“And allowed me to pay off my student loans early,” Emma said waving off any adulation.
“Have you ever been really scared doing this?” Clarissa asked, her deep green eyes large and wide.
“All the time,” Emma answered.
“Hah!” Jefferson interjected. “My first time out with Emma, we were in the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. One of the creepiest places I’ve ever been. I mean, in broad daylight you will see things, hear things. One of the most common sightings is this seven, eight foot tall dark shadow man. I was working the camera when we actually spotted it at the end of this long corridor.” Jefferson was enjoying being the center of attention and continued, “Now, I was busy peeing myself, but Emma took off, sprinting down the hallway, shouting, ‘Hey, Hey. Mr. Shadow, sir. Wait, wait, I just want to talk to you.’ She got almost to the shadow entity when, I swear to god, the thing looked like it turned around, looked at her and just,” he snapped his fingers, “vanished.”
“There was no shadow entity, Jefferson. It was just a shadow,” Emma downplayed the event.
“But most people would never have approached the damn thing,” Jefferson insisted. “Emma,” he turned to the group, “will do the brave thing every time.”
“Do the brave thing and bravery will follow,” Clarissa said. Everyone turned to look at her. She gave them one of her perky smiles. “It’s a family saying.”
“It’s a good one, but folks,” Emma was very serious. “If you ever hear Leroy or Jefferson or me tell you to get out, then you get out. There are creepier things in these old houses than haunts, spirits, ghosts, apparitions, specters, phantoms, bogey men or things that go bump in the night. One of my top priorities is your safety.”
“What is the plan, Dr. Swan?” Archie asked her.
“Well,” she began, “I want everyone to go through the place, slowly, top to bottom or bottom to top. I’ll split you up into groups of three and then we’ll regroup and talk about your impressions. I would suggest you each go into a room by yourself and then have other members of your group go in, by themselves, just to get your individual sense of the room. Then we’ll have Ms. Nolen take us through and tell us about what other people have experienced. Then, we’ll develop our investigation plan.”
“Great. Who goes with whom?” asked Millie.
Emma sighed, “Right now, I’m thinking of putting you and Rory together with Jefferson and putting Hooker with Clarissa and Archie. I’m thinking that Jefferson and Hooker will likely end up operating the hand-held cameras, is that’s ok with you two?”
“I’m always good with whatever,” said Jefferson as other members of the group nodded in agreement with their assignments.
“I’m perfectly happy to work with Clarissa,” said Hooker, smiling at the shy co-ed. “We’ll do stationary cameras too?”
“We usually do. After you go through we’ll talk about what equipment you'll need. Everyone’s familiar with the types of equipment we have. EVP’s, data loggers, static meters, of course. We also have the strobe lights with motion detectors and a new spirit box we may want to try out.”
“Tell me about the spirit box,” Archie asked.
“Oh, it’s totally cool,” began Jefferson. Emma glared at him and Jefferson made a zipping motion across his mouth.
“It’s a radio receiver that scans back and forth across AM channels,” began Emma.
“And when you ask a question, the spook will find the right word to key to the broadcast and answer your question in real time,” Jefferson finished up exuberantly.
Emma sighed, “It picks up random words, sounds, that people interpret as meaningful responses to questions, a classic example of pareidolia,” Emma explained.
“So we’ll do a baseline?” asked Millie.
“As we speak, there are three digital recorders left in a couple of the ‘hot spots’,” Emma answered.
“Oh goody,” said Leroy. “I was wondering if I’d have anything to do tomorrow morning.”
Everyone had almost finished their meals and were turning down dessert. The group was picking through things left on their plates and chit-chatting about their upcoming investigation and the whole quaintness of the town. They were finishing up when. . .
Everyone turned to look at Emma. She was staring at the door of the diner. “Quick, switch places with me, Rory,” she told the young woman who was sitting with her back to the door. As she moved to change places with the bewildered student, Emma pulled her hair up and wound it into a bun. She turned her collar up and hunched down.
“What is it?” asked Clarissa.
“I think I just saw someone I don’t want to see me,” Emma said in a whisper.
“The hot guy who just came in?” Rory asked.
“Maybe,” Emma admitted.
“That’s Neal deBae, the writer . . . or his twin,” said Clarissa. “He’s been on the New York Times best seller list umpteen times and they made a movie of his first book.”
“I know that one,” said Jefferson. “He writes the From Neverland urban fantasy mystery series with the clever hardboiled detective and his hottie forensic psychologist girlfriend. . . oh my god!” Jefferson turned to Emma, “He’s your ex-boyfriend, isn’t he?”
Emma had her face buried between her hands. “We dated . . . a while. We broke up. He began dating other people.”
“And you don’t want to see him again,” Hooker said succinctly. “I recognize that particular look of panic, Dr. Swan. We’ll get you out of here. No problem. Clarissa, sweetheart, why don’t you and Rory go over and distract the man, yes, Rory undo the top button of your blouse, that should do it. Archie, Millie, can you two take care of the bill? Jefferson, get on her other side and we’ll get the good doctor out between us.”
The plan worked with the two tall men managing to usher the petite woman out of the diner while the esteemed Mr. deBae was engaged with the two lovely undergrads. Jefferson noticed that Emma did not look back into the diner and went and stood by the street side of the van, putting it between herself and the diner. The group finished up in the diner and came on out to the vans to go back to the Inn.
It was later and both Leroy and Jefferson had come to Emma’s room to talk.
“You were scared,” Jefferson said. “I’ve never seen you scared.”
“Okay, I was in love with the guy, all right,” Emma had stopped at the front desk and gotten a bottle of the red wine usually set aside for honeymooners. She was sitting on her bed with her feet crisscrossed beneath her. Jefferson had joined her on the bed and rough and tough Leroy sat in the dainty chair that came with the dressing table. Emma continued with her story after she downed a glass of wine.
“I was a little hick girl from Frog Level, North Carolina, brand new to the big city and he was this older guy, so suave and sophisticated. My first love, if you follow me.” She poured herself a second glass of wine and downed it. The two men sat quietly, allowing her to talk.
“We were together more than a year. I had finished up my degree at Columbia, but my dissertation hadn’t hit the big time yet. I was job hunting there in New York. Just when I thought things were going along so perfectly, I mean, I was thinking marriage with a mini-van and a house in some bedroom community with good schools, well, he dumped me¸ left me with bills, no forwarding address, nothing. I was devastated and it took me a long while to get over him. . . “ she looked at the two men. “All right, I never completely got over him, ok? I took a job far away from New York and figured I wouldn’t ever run into him again. I didn’t know he was here. I mean who would expect to run into a big-shot writer in East Jesus, Maine?”
“And you’re not ready to see him again?” asked Leroy
“Seeing him, everything came crashing back on me.” Emma drank a third glass and bit her lip, trying not to cry. “I am sooo not over him. I can’t see him again. Seeing him again brings back all the pain. It’s like he left yesterday. I can’t deal with it.”
“We understand, Emma. We’ve got your back,” Jefferson promised her putting a comforting arm around her. He and Leroy then joined her in another glass of wine.
“You know that’s the third story I’ve heard from you of why you got into paranormal research,” Jefferson began. “There was the monster repeatedly attacking you, suffocating you in your bed at that one foster home and then the one where you and some friends went into a graveyard with a Ouija board, conjured something up and you had one of your friends begin to act all weird and possessed, eventually killing himself. Which one is true?” he asked her.
Emma laughed, “Maybe they all are.” She sighed, “or maybe none of them are true.” She shifted around. “Ok guys. I’m going to be all right now. You are true blue friends.”
Emma ushered them out and shut the door behind them, leaving her alone in the bedroom.