Alison woke up the next morning with a headache and the phone ringing. She groaned, glancing at the clock. It was nine in the morning, which meant she had gotten a whopping three hours of sleep the night before. Not quite the dreamy twelve, she had been hoping for. She lifted the receiver, putting it to her ear. “Hello? McCarthy Agency.”
“Hi. Is this Miss McCarthy?” The voice belonged to a man.
“Yeah, it’s me,” she replied, plopping her head back on her pillow and closing her eyes. She felt so groggy she could barely concentrate. He didn’t say anything for a moment, making her wonder if he had hung up. “Can I help you with something?”
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I’m just nervous talking about this kind of thing.”
“I’m not the judgemental-type.”
“Well, I was hoping we could… meet in person, or something. My name’s Joshua Hunter. I wanted to talk to you about a job.” He paused. His voice was actually pretty nice. She would’ve liked it if she weren’t so annoyed about being woken up so early.
“Yeah, sure,” she said. She could already feel herself drifting back to sleep with the phone to her ear.
“I work in the afternoon, so I was hoping we could meet earlier before then.”
Ugh. What was he saying now? “You mean like, today?” she asked.
“Yeah, I mean, if you were free. I know you must be… busy. Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure what kind of workload you usually have. Just if you were free. I’d like to talk to you today before I have to go to work. I guess… it’s a bit of an emergency if you want to put it that way. I feel like I’m running out of options here.” He paused. “I’ll pay extra. For your trouble,” he added. “It’s for my sister. But like I said, I’d rather talk about it with you in person if you know what I mean.”
She furrowed her brows. He sure did ramble a lot. “That’s fine,” she said, her voice tired. Anything to get him to shut up. Besides, it wasn’t like she was so rich that she could turn down clients just like that. Money was money. And he was clearly determined to throw some her way without a moment’s hesitation. “Where do you want to meet?”
“Anywhere’s fine,” he said. “It has you listed in the phonebook as being in Spring Falls.”
“I know there’s a Mark’s Coffee Place around there. On Vine Road. Have you been there?”
“I know where it’s at,” she said. “We can meet there if you want. You’ll have to give me a little time to get ready though. Is eleven okay?”
“That’d be great,” he said enthusiastically. “Really, you have no idea how much I appreciate this. Thank you.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” she replied, turning onto her side. She was too tired to be making dates so early. She wanted to sleep in. This sucked. She hung up and Alison let out a groan as she slapped her hands across her cheeks. “I’m so tired!” she cried out loud.
Pulling herself up to sitting position, she scratched at her head and stared blankly at the wall. Served her right for staying up ’til six watching horror movies with stupid Greg. All he ever did was cause her problems. She pulled herself to her feet. Might as well start getting ready then.
She grabbed at a handful of wrinkled clothes on the floor and headed to the bathroom, taking cautious glances in both directions before stepping inside. Male spirits had a tendency to appear out of the blue right when she was about to step into the water. Especially stinky old guys. She hated it. It was enough to tempt her to boycott showers all together and live in her own filth.
She didn’t sense anything off. As far as she could tell, she was completely alone. Good. She stripped and stepped into the tub.
She arrived at the coffee place about ten minutes late. Mostly because she fell back asleep when she got out of the shower and didn’t wake up for an hour. His fault for calling so early, not hers.
She figured she’d run into the guy, fat, old and pissed off. Why did he have to be fat and old? Mainly because his voice was so nice. Mature sounding was more like it. And if there was one thing she had learned at the agency, it was that the nicer the man’s voice was, the less attractive he was in person.
She glanced around, searching the sea of faces for grey hair, a possibly balding head, and multiple chins.
Instead, a good looking man in his early thirties waved to her from the corner. Not only was he not fat, old and balding, but he actually looked quite pleased to see her. She stepped closer, her lips pursed together as she moved stiffly closer to him. Upon closer inspection, he wasn’t just good looking, but in fact, quite possibly the most gorgeous creature she had ever set eyes on.
He smiled at her, a bright, pearly white smile. He looked like he modeled for trucks. His hair was sandy blond and his eyes crystal blue. It really wasn’t fair at all. She was at an obvious disadvantage and it showed. She tugged at her damp, tangled hair, wishing she had brushed it before coming. Her ‘it’s too early in the morning to care’ excuses were starting to look lame even to her.
She took a seat across from him. “Hi,” she said.
“I’m so glad you showed up,” he said enthusiastically. “Really, this means so much to me. I know it’s short notice. I just… I guess I panicked. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do.”
“You said it was for your sister, right?”
“Well, it is, but… I don’t know how to put this…” He paused. “I mean, you don’t really believe in that kind of thing, do you?”
“What kind of thing?” she asked.
He pursed his lips. “Well, you know. Ghosts.”
Alison almost laughed out loud. If only he knew. “Well, my business requires me to keep an open mind,” she replied. It was her rehearsed answer for non-believers. Non-believers were as bad as psychiatrists. They were always ready to disregard those that spoke of spirits and afterlife as if they were clinically insane. “Why?”
“To tell you the truth,” Joshua replied, “I don’t really fall for this kind of thing, but my little sister does. Ever since her miscarriage… she’s been… a little crazy.”
“She’s changed. It’s like her mind’s not even there anymore. She talks about a daughter… but I mean, she doesn’t have a daughter! That’s the point! She doesn’t have one and she’ll talk and act like she does, and go off with stories and make up conversations she had with this girl… Then she says that her daughter’s being haunted by ghosts and tell me how it scares them both. She’ll ask me to come over and get rid of them for her, like they’re some kind of every day pest I can spray for her. I mean, I don’t know what to do. I know it’s because of the miscarriage… but I never thought she’d go this far with it.”
Alison stared at him blankly. “So… Let me see if I understand you. You want me to get rid of whatever’s bothering them, right?”
Joshua shook his head. “No. There’s nothing to get rid of. You have to understand, there’s no them. It’s just my sister in that house. She doesn’t really have a daughter. It’s like she’s trying to pretend she never lost the baby. She’s lived alone there for about five years now. She’s making these stories up. I was hoping you could go in and I don’t know, put on a show for her. Tell her you’re an expert, you checked the place out, and there’s no ghosts. Tell her there’s nothing to be scared of. She won’t listen to anyone else but I know she’ll believe it if it’s from you.”
Alison wasn’t sure. That wasn’t really what she was for. “If that’s what you want,” she replied. She wasn’t sure what to make out of this man’s sister just yet. She’d have to meet the woman in person first before making any judgements on the situation. “When did you want me to see her?”
“As soon as possible,” Joshua said. “I’ll tell her to call you. Really, she’ll be really excited to hear from you. She already knows about you, actually. She’s the one that told me to get a hold of you. She said she wanted your professional opinion.”
“That’s fine,” Alison said. “I’ll meet her and if there’s nothing to worry about, then I’ll definitely let her know.” She smiled. “Like I said, my job requires I keep an open mind about everything.”
“Oh, I completely understand,” he said quickly. “But don’t worry. Like I said, you’re not going to find anything. I’ve been over every day since she started talking about it and haven’t found anything wrong with her place.”
“Nothing unusual at all, huh?”
“Nothing,” he repeated seriously. “I looked at everything I could think of. I checked door knobs, checked for leaking faucets, for rats, something… you know… that could be giving her those crazy ideas. But couldn’t find anything. That place’s in better shape than my house.”
Alison nodded. She had to admit, it was one of her stranger cases. It wasn’t every day that she took on a haunting reported by an imaginary daughter. Still, it intrigued her to find out whether or not the poltergeists truly existed or were really just a figment of some poor woman’s imagination. “Tell her to call me tonight,” Alison spoke, trying to make her voice reassuring. “Hopefully, we can find a way to help her.”
Joshua smiled at her then, a warm and dazzling smile that nearly sent her into a state of unconsciousness. She felt ridiculous for crushing so hard on a client she had barely known for five minutes now. Clearing her throat, she fiddled with her small leather purse in her hands, twisting the strap around her fingers. “I’m so relieved,” he breathed out loud. “I’m so glad I can finally get this taken care of.”
“Hopefully, it’ll be for good.” Her fingers itched for a cigarette. Unfortunately for herself, the smoking ban had just recently hit Pennsylvania, making it illegal to smoke in most public places. Her fingers moved to her lips instead, brushing against them in an attempt to stay busy. “How long has she been like this, anyway?” She paused. “You can tell me if I’m prying.”
“Oh no, not at all.”
He looked down, his large hands folding on the table top. The black suit he wore was missing the tie and unbuttoned at the collar. She remembered him mentioning something about having to head to work later. Too bad. She would’ve liked to spend a little more time with him.
“Emily started it about a year ago,” he continued. “A lot happened since the miscarriage…. With her personal life, I mean. At first, she was just stranger than usual. She’d talk about things that didn’t really make sense but other than that, she was pretty normal. Depressed maybe, but normal. Then, it was like she completely snapped. She wasn’t the same woman anymore. She talked about seeing things that weren’t there, and started living and behaving as if her daughter had come back to life. I’ll admit, I was scared. I didn’t know how to react to her.”
Seeing things that weren’t there, huh? Moving her thumb to her mouth, she bit the tip, trying to keep her mind from wandering to places she didn’t want it to. That was what people used to tell her when she first started seeing spirits. That she was seeing things that weren’t really there. That she was strange. That she made up stories for attention. She had only been in high school at time. They thought she was depressed and attention-starved. Was Joshua’s sister in the same situation herself?
It was entirely possible. Equally as possible as the theory that Emily was making the entire thing up. The last thing she wanted to do was jump to conclusions too soon before actually speaking to the woman herself and checking out the house in person. “I don’t blame you for being worried,” she said. It was perfectly natural for him to be concerned about a family member. Whether the claims were false or not didn’t change that. “Do you have her phone number. I’ll get a hold of her as soon as I can.”
He nodded, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a folded business card. The name Emily was already scrawled on the back, her number written beneath. “She’s home all day long. You can call her at any time.”
“Sounds good,” Alison agreed, taking it into her hand. She couldn’t help but notice that the business card he had written on was his own. Her eyes fell briefly on the ink printed in the front. Harrison and Associates. Joshua Hunter. Consultant. His work number was listed at the bottom. Her cheeks heated up against her will. She tucked the card into her purse, shaking her head.
What was she doing? He was a client. A pretty client, yes, but a client nonetheless, and one who was willing to pay her good money to stay on task. There was no sense in dreaming he would even think of becoming anything more than that. Besides, she wanted nothing more than to help this sister of his, and whether she liked it or not, she was going to stay professional about it too.