“I moved up hea’ ‘bout fo’ months ago,” April Longstrum said. She was average height, in her early sixties and dressed modestly in a baggy, yellow cardigan sweater and flowered skirt. Her skin was ebony-colored and her grey hair was pulled up into a tight bun. She was the woman that had left the second voice mail on Alison’s answering machine the night before. “From Georgia,” she said again. “Since my husband died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alison replied once more. The conversation had gone in something of a circle since she got there, leading the older woman to restate facts over and over again. Alison realized she was repeating herself as much as the other woman was. The two of them had spent the last hour on the worn couch, while April served them chamomile tea and talked endlessly about her personal life.
Alison had been tempted more than once to remind the woman what she had come there for.
“You eva’ been to Georgia, dea’?”
“No, I haven’t,” Alison admitted. Greg was making yawning motions with his hand, floating only inches from the older woman’s side. Alison made a face at him, then stopped herself, hoping April wouldn’t think the sour expression had been directed towards her.
“It’s absolutely lovele’,” April sighed. “Ever’one’s so nice there. I feel like the people are so cold in the north. Like they aint got no sense in themselves.” She sipped her tea slowly. “We bought our house ‘bout thirty-two years ago. I had ta sell it when Will died. I jus’ couldn’t stay in a sucha big place all by mysel’. My… My parents died yea’s ago, you know. So with my daughta’ and grankids hea’ in Pennsylvania, I just felt like I had no reason to stay there in that big ol’ house. It got too lonele’. You can’t even imagin’ how lonele’ it gets.”
“So, you say this place is haunted?” Alison asked, hoping to push the conversation in the right direction. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the woman’s company, but she was supposed to meet with Daniel Hoffinger about his damned mirror again later that afternoon.
April looked at her, a perplexed expression on her face. “Haunted?” She stopped. “Oh, yes,” she smiled shaking her head in understanding. “Of course. I apologiz’. I jus’ had such a nice time talkin’ wit’ you. I completely forgot what I had you come hea’ for’.”
“Let’s start from the beginning,” Alison suggested. “Why do you think your house is haunted?”
“Well, the noises fo’ one,” April replied reluctantly. “I had thaw’ it were rats originally. Thea’ was noises above my room comin’ from the attic.”
“What kind of noises?”
“Jus’ noises. Like scritchin’ and scratchin’. I hear ‘em from the ceilin’ and I thaw’ I mus’ve had some rats up thea’.”
“So what did you do?”
“I’s wen’ up thea’, of course. And I’s brought ‘em up wit’ me some rat traps and an’ poison. I’s hea’ thinkin’ I can take care of ‘em rats myself. Aint got no need for no expensive exterminato’ come in hea’ an’ charge a fortune fo’ somethin’ I’s can do myself, is what I thawt’, right?”
“So’s I goes up to set the poison an’ the traps and I’s hea’ the noise again! I’m lookin’ and turnin’ and wonderin’ whea’ those darn lil’ roden’s are when’s I see a man standin’ behind me. I jus’ start screamin’ and screamin. I’s thinkin’ the whole neighbo’hood’ll wake up from my’s screamin’. I thaw’ he was an intruder,” she clarified. “I’s never thaw’ he’d be a spook since I’s never seen one in person befo’. But then he goes an’ he disappea’s. Can you imagin’ my heart racin’ when the man disappea’s on me then?”
“I can only imagine,” Alison agreed.
“So, I was jus’ in shock. Fo’ days I keep hearin’ the noises, the scratchin’ and creakin’ above me, but I don’t tell no one that I gots a spook ‘cause the las’ thin’ I need is stranga’s thinkin’ the ol’ lady from Georgia’s some kinda crazy.”
“You don’t have to worry about that when you’re talking to me,” Alison reassured her. The woman probably knew that already but Alison always wanted to make it clear that her clients could talk to her about anything.
“Thank goodness,” the woman sighed. “That was when I saw you in the phone book. I was embarras’ at first, thinkin’ there was no way you’d believ’ me, but hea’ you are and I’m thankful for it.”
“It’s no problem at all. I do this for a living so I see all kinds of strange things.”
“An’ you can get rid o’ him too, can’t ya?” she asked. “You can make him go away?”
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief, a hand pressing to her chest. “The Lord is surely smilin’ down on me today. Thank you so much fo’ comin’.”
“You’re welcome,” Alison replied. She stood up and gestured upstairs. “Mind if I check out the attic?”
“No, not at all. Go righ’ ahead. Do you need me to be anywhea’ in particular?”
“You can relax down here,” Alison replied, heading toward the staircase. “I’ll go up and see what I can find. I’ll be back in a little bit.” Out of the corner of her eye, Alison could make out Greg as he began following after her.
Alison reached the top of the stairs. She spotted the entrance to the attic at the end of the hall, a rectangle-shaped door in the ceiling. Moving toward it, she reached up, her hand grasping the metal chain and tugging it. The ladder appeared above her, folded twice, and Alison used both hands to pull it down and straighten it out.
Greg had already moved ahead of her, something that she found extremely annoying. He didn’t always follow her to her jobs, but when he did, he had a habit of taking charge like the entire thing was his operation. She watched as his body floated up through the ceiling and disappeared into the attic above them. She climbed quickly up the ladder herself.
When she was high enough, she stuck her head through the open entrance and gave the area a quick sweep with her eyes. From what she could see, the attic was mostly empty, save for a few boxes and what looked like a very old plastic, Christmas tree. She gave another quick glance behind her before climbing the rest of the way up. It was something she usually liked to do before jumping right into anything. To make sure the coast was clear. As much as she hated to admit it, her job could get dangerous.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose when she stepped onto the attic floor. April Longstrum had been right. Something was definitely in here. Greg was standing in the center of the room, looking around cautiously. “You feel that?” he asked in a low voice.
“Yeah, I feel it,” she replied. “You see anything?”
“Not yet,” Greg said. “He’s here but he knows we’re looking for him.”
Alison let out a yelp as a sudden invisible force crashed against her back. She fell to the floor, her hands breaking her fall. She turned her head and caught sight of an angry man behind her. The man moved swiftly forward. He grabbed her by the hair, pulling it roughly up in the air before ripping down and slamming her head against the floorboards.
Racing forward, Greg grabbed hold of the man. He scooped his arms under the man’s armpits and held him tightly from behind. It was the only thing Greg could make contact with. Other spirits.
Turning over, Alison held her hand against the aching side of her head. The stupid psycho. Her phone began to ring in her pocket. She hesitated, distracted by the loud noise.
“Alison,” Greg complained. “What are you doing? Hurry up.”
She ignored him, pulling the phone from her pocket. The name on the screen caught her by surprise. It was Josh? Why would Josh be calling her? She pursed her lips, contemplating whether or not she could pick it up and let Greg do all the work for a few minutes, or if she should leave the call alone for later.
Sighing, she tucked the phone back into her pocket. “Sorry.” She turned to the man struggling in Greg’s arms. She could get a good look at him. He appeared rather young to be dead, though of course, not nearly as young as Greg was. Instead, he appeared to be in his fifties, overweight, with a ring of blondish hair around his head. He had a prominent nose, and a doubling chin. “You,” she said. “Calm down.”
“Who are you?” the spirit demanded. “What are you doing in my house?” The disgruntled spirit raised his voice angrily as he spoke.
“Your house, huh,” Alison asked. She was about to reach into her pocket for a cigarette when she remembered she had quit. “Actually, from my understanding, this is in fact, not your house anymore. It’s April Longstrum’s house now.”
“What? Who the hell’s that?”
“Now,” Alison said, “my only question is why you’d want to go and terrify some poor old lady half to death.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He jerked forward in Greg’s arms, trying unsuccessfully to free himself.
“I’m talking about you, my friend.”
“What about me?”
“About your current state of being.”
“I’m mad,” he said. “That’s my state of being, bitch.”
“What else?” Alison asked. It never worked to just come out and say it. The spirit was usually too disorientated for that. It’d never sink in. She had to get them thinking first. Get them out of their heads. Get them realizing that something was wrong, that something wasn’t the way it used to be. It was the only way to get a real response.
“What do you mean, ‘what else?’”
“For example, what’s the last thing you remember doing?”
“Go ahead. We’re all friends here. What’s the last thing you remember?” she inquired.
He stared at her hard. “Why should I tell you?”
“Because if you don’t, I’m going to assume you don’t remember.”
“What do I care what you assume?”
“Can’t you hurry up,” Greg groaned.
“Shut up, Greg.”
She turned her attention back to the spirit. “Now tell me. What’s the last thing you remember?”
He shook his head. “I don’t remember anything.”
“Think about it.”
“I don’t know. I’m telling you, I don’t know, all right?”
“Try harder,” Alison said. “Where were you? What were you doing? Something happened, didn’t it?”
He went quiet. The spirit looked down to the floor, his brows furrowed. He had stopped fighting. “I don’t know,” he said again.
“I think you do know,” Alison said. “I think you know but you don’t want to tell me.”
He looked back up at her. It appeared he was finally willing to cooperate with them. “I think I was up here. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“What were doing up here?”
“Looking for something.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“A wedding album. I think. For Becky. She wanted me to get the wedding album.”
“And then what happened?”
“Then…” He stopped himself, his body shuddering. “I think my chest hurt. It hurt so bad. I fell over.”
“And I kept hoping Becky would come up and find me like that. That she’d take me to the hospital.”
“Did she? Did she take you to the hospital?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think she ever found me. I think…. I think I died before she could get to me.”
“Which would make you dead,” Alison stated finally.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Dead.” He looked devastated by the realization. It was something Alison could never understand. As if, even in death, the man feared the thought of dying. But the seeds of realization had already been planted. It wouldn’t take long before they sprouted.
Several minutes passed. Little-by-little, the man began to disappear from Greg’s arms.
Alison reached again into her empty pocket, searching for her pack of cigarettes out of habit. She came to the same conclusion she had come to the first time, that they were at home and she had promised not to smoke them anymore. When the man had completely faded away, Alison sat down on the dusty floor, her hand going to the sore spot on the side of her head. She pulled back four sticky fingers, finding that they were coated in fresh blood. “That jerk really got me good,” she muttered.
“Nice work though,” Greg spoke up, moving toward her.
“The guy was making me nervous fidgeting around like that.”
“He was making me nervous too.”
“So who was that before?” Greg asked.
“You mean the call?”
“Yeah, you looked kinda distracted for a second.”
“Josh,” Alison replied. She felt flustered at the sound of his name. Just saying it was enough to make her heart beat faster.
Greg groaned. “Him again?”
“Unfortunately. I wonder what he wanted.” She wiped the blood from her hands onto her jeans.
“You going to call him back?”
“That all depends,” she said. “I might. It could be important. When he calls, it’s usually about his sister.”
“Why don’t you just call her then?”
“That’s a good idea. Maybe I will.” She climbed back to her feet. “Come on. Let’s go.” She made her way carefully down the ladder. Then she pushed it back up into the ceiling, setting it firmly back into place.
She headed down the narrow stairs and back to the first floor. April Longstrum was waiting for her on the couch. The woman was leaned back against the tan cushions, still sipping from her teacup.
“All done,” Alison said as she came down.
“Really?” April exclaimed. “That’s wondaful. How’d you do it?”
“Exorcism ritual,” Alison replied. That wasn’t exactly, exactly true but it was a term people understood and what most clients wanted to hear. No one would pay her if they knew she was hardly more than a spiritual psychologist getting the dead to understand what had really happened to them.
“An exorcism?” April said, her voice awed. “Like wit’ the Lord’s prayea’?”
“Sure,” Alison replied. Why not?
“You didn’t need a bible to do it?”
“Nah, I got everything I need memorized in my head.” She pulled out a business card and handed it to the older woman. “But I come with a lifetime-warrantee. If anything comes up, call me again, okay? I’ll take care of it.”
“All right,” the woman replied.