We don’t do tests
Jackson reached the city limits of Oakhill Ohio right around dinner time. The small town, of just over fifteen hundred people, had one local diner, and it was packed. Jackson walked in, as the smell of French fries made his mouth water, and his stomach growl. An older, slightly overweight woman, dressed in a tight fitting pink skirt, and matching shirt, which was accented with a white apron, greeted Jackson near the front door. “How many?” she asked, grabbing a handful of menus. Her name tag read: Linda.
“One,” Jackson answered. “Can I get a booth by chance?” he asked, looking to the three ghosts that had accompanied him in the diner, instead of waiting out in the car like he had suggested.
Linda gave Jackson a are you kidding me look, to which Jackson just shrugged his shoulders. “You better leave me a gracious tip,” she said, leading him toward the rear of the diner. “I’ll give you a few minutes,” she told him, placing a single menu on to the table, and watching Jackson slide in the booth, and move all the way over, like he was expecting someone to sit next to him.
“No need,” he said, handing her back the menu. “I’ll take a bacon cheese burger, with just barbeque sauce. A side of fries, and a vanilla malt.”
Linda scratched his order down on her pad, before disappearing in the kitchen.
“Ok, so what’s our game plan on this one?” Lilly asked.
“Same as before,” Jackson replied, taking out his phone. “Find out where she lived, and go from there,” he added, realizing that several people seated around him were giving him the sideways glare. “I wish you girls would have stayed in the car.”
“We’re not dogs,” Jessica snapped angrily, as the lights in the diner flickered.
Jackson looked to the lights, and then to Jessica, who appeared visibly upset, as her dark eyes glared at the young man. “That’s not what I’m suggesting,” Jackson said, trying to keep his voice as low as he could.
“I think what Jackson is trying to say is that he doesn’t want people thinking he’s crazy, when it looks like he’s talking to himself,” Lilly offered, trying to ease Jessica back from the ledge.
“Sorry,” Jessica replied, taking in a deep breath. “I’m been in Purgatory too long. I just really need to cross over. I had all but given up hope, and then you show up and now it’s all I can think about, and now all we’re doing is zig zagging back and forth between Indian and Ohio, when we need to be on the road heading to Michigan, and not seating here in some huck suck diner.”
“You need to calm down,” Allison butted in. “We’ll get there. We’re all in this together, remember?”
Again the lights flickered.
“Excuse me for not being dead,” Jackson commented, just as Linda appeared with a tray of food.
“Did you say something?” the waitress asked, giving Jackson a funny look.
“I said, looks great.”
“You do know I’m doing this out of the kindness of my heart,” Jackson pointed out, as soon as Linda was out of ear shot. He grabbed the ketchup and splashed the red, tangy, sauce on the fresh out of the fryer fries.
Jessica glared at him even harder than before, as the lights flickered again.
“Enough with the lights!” Jackson exclaimed, as everyone in the diner turned to give him a nervous look. “Sorry,” said Jackson, feeling like a fish out of water. “It’s been a long day and I have epilepsy,” he lied. “and the flickering lights are just bugging me out. Can I get this to go please,” he added, waving toward Linda.
Jackson stormed out of the diner and slammed the car door shut, as he slid into the driver’s seat. “I’m sorry,” Jessica said again. “It’s…it’s just getting hard for me to concentrate on things. I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that. I really appreciate what you’re doing.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Jackson replied, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. You girls have all be through your own personal hells, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be dead.” He stuck the key in the ignition and gave it a turn. The car started up, and the head lights automatically turned on. “Well, I guess I can, but my outcome was a tad bit different, and I’m not the one stuck in between worlds, so let me eat real fast, and we’ll figure this out.”
Jackson nearly jumped out of his seat, when there came a knock at his car window. The cigarette fell out of his mouth and landed in between his legs, causing him to jump up again, as he quickly grabbed the cigarette from underneath his crotch. When he was finally able to look up to see who had knocked on his window, he found himself staring at a rather unamused police officer. “Good evening Officer,” Jackson greeted, rolling down his window. “Is everything all right?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” the Officer replied. He was an older man, with gray hair, matching mustache, and stood at least six feet tall, and was well over two hundred pounds. He was wearing a brown uniform, with a big, shiny gold badge, and a gold name plate that read: Chief Vaughn. “Folks in the diner called, and said that you were acting a little peculiar.”
“Me?” Jackson inquired. “No, can’t say that I was. Just trying to get some food,” he replied, holding up the to go bag. “Must have been someone else.”
“Son, this is a real small town. The kind where everybody knows everybody, and ain’t nobody in there knowing you. So, I’m sure that I’ve got the right guy. Besides, I could hear you talking to yourself when I walked up to your car.”
All Jackson could do was stare that the Chief. He didn’t have any smart answers for him. He could always try to tell him the truth, but he had a strong feeling how that conversation would go. “Yeah, that…I apologized for the outburst in the diner. You see, I’ve got epilepsy, and lights in there were flickering, and my eyes started to bug out…”
The Chief held up his left hand and shined his bright flash light in Jackson’s face. “Are you on drugs?”
“No,” Jackson answered. “I wish I was to tell you the truth, but I’ve been clean for almost three weeks now.”
“Where you headed to?”
“Michigan, just needed to grab a bite.”
“We’re so busted,” Jessica blurted out, the head lights on the car flickered.
Jackson muttered something under his breath, as Chief Vaughn looked toward the lights. “Need to see your driver’s license,” the Chief ordered, resting his right hand on top of his service weapon.
“Yeah, sure thing,” Jackson stated, fishing out his wallet and handing the Chief his ID.
“Long way from South Dakota,” the Chief replied. “Said you were headed to Michigan?”
“Why don’t you step out of the car for a minute young man.”
The pistol, which Jackson still had in his jacket pocket, started to feel like it weighed a ton. “Sure thing,” he said, slowly opening the door, and stepping out of the car. As soon as he did, the Chief spun him around and had him place his hands on the top of his car. The Chief started to pat him down, starting at the ankles and working his way up. He had just cleared Jackson’s waist, when a voice blared out from the Chief’s police radio.
“Chief, you there?”
“What now?” Chief Vaughn muttered to himself, taking a step back from Jackson and grabbing his radio. “Go ahead Myrtle, I’m here.”
“Chief, Mrs. Elliot’s back on the phone. She’s sounding crazier than ever. Something about wanting a priest to cleanse her house of evil spirits. What do you want me to tell her?”
Jackson looked over his shoulder, upon hearing the last name of Elliot. How many Elliot’s could there be in this small town, where everybody knew everybody. “Poor woman,” the Chief said to Jackson, when he saw that he had heard the radio traffic. “She hasn’t been the same since her daughter went missing about two years ago.”
“Nobody really knows. But now her mother now insists that her house is haunted or something.”
“You believe in that kinda stuff?” Jackson asked, trying to see where the Chief sat on things having to do with the supernatural.
“You better believe it,” Chief Vaughn answered, with a straight face. “I retired from the Cincinnati Police Department. Spent my last ten years as a homicide Detective, and I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies. Enough to know that I get this certain feeling every once in a while, that tells me that someone might be lingering about.”
“Like a ghost?” Jackson asked, turning around to face the Chief.
“I’m not going to say that I’ve seen one, because I haven’t, but I do believe that I’m sensitive to the supernatural. I get this feeling from time to time, like the air around my head gets really heavy, and I can feel the pressure change. Kinda like I’m feeling right now, standing here next to your car.”
Jackson looked into the car, and found the ghost of all three girls staring back him. “This time might be different,” Lilly said.
“And what if it’s not?” Jackson replied.
“What if it’s not what?” Chief Vaughn asked.
“Ok…fine,” Jackson blurted out, throwing up his arms. “I’m what some people in the supernatural realm call a seer.”
“And what do you see?”
The Chief just stared at Jackson, wondering if he was on drugs, and if he was, what kind.
“You wanna know what I’m doing here in Oakhill? I’m here looking for Mrs. Elliott’s daughter. Well, not her actually daughter, but her daughter’s ghost.”
“Is that right now?”
“I know it sounds crazy, and you’re probably thinking that I’m on drugs.”
“No,” the Chief said, lying, while shaking his head.
“Listen, I know how this sounds, but it’s the truth. If you take me over there, I can prove it to you,” Jackson insisted.
“First off, I’m not just gonna up and take you over there, simply because you say that you can see dead people. Those folks have been through enough, and don’t need some crack pot showing up at their front door and claiming that their daughter is dead. Is this some kind of scam you got going? You gonna tell them that you can see their dead daughter, and for a small fee you can pass on a loving final message? I ought to lock you up right now.”
“No, no, no… nothing like that,” Jackson pleaded.
“Then what’s it like, hmm. Why are you looking for Laura in the first place?”
Jackson looked into the car, searching for help.
“Tell him,” Lilly said.
“Might as well,” Allison replied. “He already thinks you’re crazy.”
“There’s a guy up in Michigan named Mark Karle. He’s a serial killer. He’s killed five girls so far. All Blonde. All young. He’s smart too. He takes them each from a different state, and them buries them in another, that way…”
“Local agencies can’t find a pattern. We don’t share a lot of info with other states, just other agencies close to us,” the Chief said, finishing Jackson’s sentence.
“And he’s got another girl in his basement right now.”
“Why haven’t you called the police in that jurisdiction?”
“And tell them what?” Jackson asked. “That a ghost told me what he’s doing. Without any physical evidence they’ll never get into that house and find anything, and that’ll just tip him off that they’re on to him, and he’ll get rid of the anything he’s got that can tie him to any of the murders. Besides,…there’s something else that has to be done first.”
“And what would that be?”
“From what I’ve been told about the afterlife, some spirits are put in this place called Purgatory, when they die. It’s a place…”
“Between heaven and hell,” Chief Vaughn stated.
“Yeah, well a spirit is placed there because they have some unfinished business left here on earth, and in order to prove that they are worthy enough to enter heaven, they have to complete that business before they can move forward, and it’s nearly impossible, because ghosts can’t really communicate with the living.”
“So what, they’re just stuck here until they can prove themselves?”
Jackson nodded his head.
“And if they can’t?’
“Like you said, they’re stuck here,” Jackson answered.
“All of this doesn’t explain why you’re looking for Laura.”
“Bringing Mark Karle to justice is the unfinished business of all of his victims,” Jackson responded. “And in order for them all to cross over, they all need to be present when it happens, so, me and the three ghosts in the car, are here to find Laura Elliot’s spirit so that she can cross over with the others.”
“So, where’s her body?”
“Beats me,” Jackson answered. “I haven’t talked to her yet. Lilly Barnes, she’s the one in the front seat,” the Chief bent down and took a look at the empty front passenger seat. “She was found in a forest in Laflamme Ohio, by a guy, and his dog. Jessica Watkins, and Allison Murphey, they’re in the back seat, haven’t been found yet, but they did take me to where their bodies were buried. I wrote down their coordinates with a hand held GPS and mailed them to the local police, so it should only be a matter of time before they’re found.”
“And you’ll do the same when you find Laura Elliott?”
Jackson nodded his head again. “They deserve to be laid to rest. They’re families deserve to have that closure.”
“How do you even know that Laura’s ghost is here in Oakhill? She moved to Cincinnati the minute she turned eighteen, and disappeared a few months after that.”
“Well, like the others,” Jackson said, motioning toward the car. “They always tend to return to their loved ones, once they realize that they can’t complete their tasks. So, how about Chief?”
“Ok, get back in your car and follow me,” Chief Vaughn said, walking back to his cruiser.
Jackson jumped in the driver’s seat. “Guess you were right,” he said to Lilly. “For once.”
“OOOHHH,” Jessica and Allison replied at the same time.
“Ha ha, very funny,” Lilly responded. She was smiling, but the sound of her voice said that she wasn’t all that amused.
“Relax,” said Jackson flashing a big smile. “I was just kidding,” he added, putting the car into gear and following the Chief down the street. He reached into his jacket pocket and took out the small revolver he had found underneath Harold Woodruff’s bed, and placed it under his seat.
“Where did you get that from?” Lilly asked in a shocked tone.
“Back in the house where we found Jessica. Thought it might come in handy somewhere down the road.”
“That’s not what you said when I suggested…”
“That’s different, and still not an option,” Jackson said.
“What’s not an option?” asked Jessica.
“Killing Mark Karle,” Lilly answered.
“That would solve our dilemma,” Allison added.
“I’m not going to just go and murder someone so you three can cross over,” Jackson scolded them. “I still have to live with my actions, and knowing what I know now, I’m not doing anything that’s going to put me on anyone’s scale, or worse.”
“You’re right,” Lilly told him. “And I’m not going to put you in that position. I’m just surprised that you’ve got a gun is all.”
“I didn’t go out and look for one, it just kinda found me. I thought for sure he was going to find it on me, and then he would have locked me up for sure,” Jackson pointed out. “That’s a felony right there. We’re talking prison time for sure. Can we just drop it?”
The Chief took them to the other side of town, and pulled over in front of a large, two story, green house, with red shutters.
“Is this it?” Jackson asked, getting gout of the car and joining the Chief on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“No,” Chief Vaughn answered. “This is my house. I’ve had that feeling for some time now, every time I walk in there. So, you’re gonna go in there, and see if there’s a ghost.”
“Who is it?”
“That’s for you to tell me,” the Chief answered. “Consider this a test. You pass it, and then I’ll take you over to the Elliott’s.”
“And if I fail?”
* * *
The inside of the house was very clean and well organized. The living room, which was the first room nearest the front door, had pink carpet, which ran throughout the house, and a white and pink floral patterned wallpaper was the accent. Jackson walked in the living room and began to feel nauseas. “It’s a very flattering color,” he remarked, as the Chief walked in behind him and closed the front door.
“Well?” he asked.
“Where’s the ghost?”
“Not in here,” Jackson answered. “The pink carpet probably scared it away.”
“And you’re failing the test.”
“I ain’t failing shit,” Jackson replied. “Just saying that there aren’t any ghosts in this room.” He began to wander about the house. Peeking into each and every room. The master bedroom had a queen size bed, and two dressers. He looked into the closet and found both men’s and women’s clothing. He made his way down the hall, and looked into the guest bedroom, and then to the room across the hall, which was filled with quilting supplies, but no ghosts. He made his way back downstairs, and looked in the kitchen, and then down in the basement, but couldn’t find any signs of any lingering spirits. “I got nothing.”
Chief Vaughn gave him a funny look, and started to take out his handcuffs.
“Hold on!” Jackson exclaimed taking a step back. “Maybe your feelings aren’t real,” he suggested. “You ever think about that? Maybe you’re just feeling what you want to feel.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, and I know what I feel,” defended the Chief.
“And are you feeling it now?” Jackson inquired. “Because there ain’t no ghost in your house.”
The Chief looked around and seemed to at a loss for words. “You’re not feeling anything are you?” Jackson asked. “Maybe they’ve moved on…” he began to say, his voice trailing off, as he looked through the kitchen window out into the backyard. The sun was starting to set, but there was still enough light for Jackson to see that there was a large wooden privacy fence that ran along the yard’s border. Chief Vaughn had installed it himself, when he had first moved into the home. The wood had been fresh, and vibrant in color back then. Now it had become dull and faded after decades of being abused by the weather.
Nestled in front of the fence, and in direct view from the kitchen window, was a wooden bench, with green painted metal arm rests and legs. It sat in the middle of a small clearing, free of grass, and covered with red cedar chips. Several large, flowering plants had been planted on both sides of the bench, and were starting to show signs of the fast approaching fall season, but the thing that caught Jackson’s attention was the older woman seated on the bench and staring up into the sky. She appeared to be about the same age as Chief Vaughn, and she was a bright shade of gray. Jackson had no idea what color her clothes had been, but even from the kitchen window, he could make out the large floral print upon her shirt. “There’s a woman sitting on your bench.”
The Chief turned his head and looked out in the back yard and gazed upon the empty wooden bench. “Don’t fuck with me young man,” he said in a very stern voice.
“You’re the one who brought me here, remember?”
The Chief made his way to the back door. “After you,” he motioned.
Jackson opened the back door and stepped out in the well manicure back yard. The trees were starting to lose their leaves, but not one could be found on the green grass. The woman looked up upon hearing the back door being opened, and her face brightened upon seeing the face of Chief Vaughn.
Jackson took a seat next to the woman, who was still staring intently at the Chief. “Hello,” he said.
The woman looked at Jackson, and her eyes widened in surprise, upon the realization that he could see her. “You can see me, can’t you?” she asked, reaching out and placing a hand upon his arm, her expression saddening when her hand passed through Jackson’s flesh.
“Yes I can.”
“What is she saying?” the Chief asked, taking a few eager steps forward.
“You’re his wife aren’t you?”
The woman nodded her head. “Helen.”
“Well?” asked the Chief.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jackson. You’ve got some unfinished business I presume?” Jackson inquired.
“Are they with you?” she asked, looking to the Lilly and the others.
“Yes, they’re…my friends. We’re on a secret mission.”
Helen looked up to the bright golden ray of light engulfing her house. “It’s a beautiful sight,” she said. “One I never get tired of looking at, and I have a feeling that I’ve been looking at it for a long time.”
“The golden light? I’ve heard. When did you…die?” Jackson asked, trying to sound as sensitive as he could.
“Two thousand and eight,” she replied. “What year is it now?”
“Two thousand and nineteen.”
“Wow,” Helen replied. “I had no idea it had been that long.”
“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Cancer, and it wasn’t the quick kind. I felt so bad for Jim having to see me like that. Having to watch me fade away, and being unable to do anything about it. He always wore such a strong face, even around the kids.”
“Do you need to tell him something, is that it?”
“It’s time for him to move on. Time for him to stop living in an empty house.”
“You better start talking,” the Chief warned.
“She said that she’s sorry for putting you through her sickness. She knows that it was hard on you. That, even though you always wore a brave face, especially around the kids, it was tearing you up on the inside. She also says that you need to move one. She mad that after eleven years, you’re still sitting in this big house all alone.”
“I’m not alone,” Chief Vaughn argued, though his voice was saying something completely different.
Helen told Jackson a few more facts, that he promptly repeated.
“Your kids are living on each of the coasts, and your stuck here in the middle,” Jackson continued. “You don’t have any friends, and the only person you really talk to is Agnes, from across the street, who brings you over some food a couple of times a week, so that you don’t starve. Agnes likes you, you know. Helen says that you’re kind of slow when it comes to those things. She says that you need to ask her out to dinner.”
“I can’t do that,” said the Chief, with a hint of anger in his tone.
“Why not?” Jackson and Helen both asked at the same time.
“Because…because I’m a married man!”
“No you’re not Chief,” Jackson replied. “Not anymore. Helen says that she can’t move on knowing that you’re not happy. That you’re here all alone. She didn’t want to leave, but she had to. She didn’t have a choice. She needs you to know that she didn’t give up on you, or the kids. She fought as long as she could.”
A tear started to well up in the Chief’s eye, as his stern face began to soften. He quickly wiped it away, and his face became like stone once more. “How do I know that you’re not making this shit up?” he asked.
“Seriously?” Jackson asked. “Again, you’re the one who brought me here.”
“You could have looked me up on the internet or something on your way over here. Or maybe you could have figured it out from walking through my house.”
Jackson spoke one single word. “Suzzy.”
The expression Chief Vaughn made upon hearing the name, looked like someone had just kicked him in the balls. Hard. “Excuse me,” he said, with a how dare you say that name look.
“Suzzy. That was the name of your first daughter. She was a miscarriage late in Helen’s second trimester.”
The tear that had been wiped away was quickly replaced with another, which ran down the large man’s face. “We never told anyone her name. That was our little secret. I thought about her for a long time, and still do to this very day. She really is here, isn’t she?”
Jackson nodded, fighting back his own tears. He had no idea how emotional it was getting involved with the grief of others. He had spent most of his life only taking things. Only caring about himself, and while he had helped both Darnell and Joshua crossover, neither of their experiences had been so personal. This was way out of his comfort zone. Even helping Lilly, and the others, hadn’t been this taxing, not yet anyway, but he also knew that they were a long way from being finished.
“Ok,” Chief Vaughn replied, wiping away his tears again. “I’ll ask out Agnes. I only ever wanted to make Helen happy. That was my single purpose in life, and now it will be my purpose in her death. I love you Helen.”
Tears began to fall from Helen’s eyes. They were both of joy and grief. “Tell him we’ll be together again, someday in the distant future.”
“I will,” Jackson replied.
Helen Vaughn’s spirit turned into specks of golden light, and were carried upward upon the wind. “She’s crossed over,” Jackson told the Chief. “She said that you’ll be together again someday in the distant future.”
“Ok, ok,” Chief Vaughn stammered, trying to compose himself. “I suppose you passed the test,” he said, straightening out his uniform. “And now it’s my turn to honor my end of the bargain.”