Alison gave an annoyed look beside her as she pulled her coat on. Greg was looking at her expectantly from the living room. “Did I invite you in?” she asked, her voice irritated.
“No,” he admitted slowly.
“Then why are you here?”
“I thought I’d come with you,” he tried.
Alison sighed. Whatever. He was going to do what he wanted either way. “You can come if you want.” She had spoken to Joshua Hunter’s sister, Emily Burt, the night before. They had agreed she’d stop by the next afternoon to check out the place. “Her brother’s a really good guy. He’s seriously worried about her.”
Greg followed her as she left the house. “So you’ve said.”
“What’re you implying?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. She hadn’t talked about him that much, had she? If she had, it hadn’t been on purpose.
“I’m not implying anything. He sounds great,” Greg continued sarcastically. “That’s why you like him so much, right?”
Alison laughed out loud. “Please. I barely know the boy. Stop being so jealous all the time.” Just because he happened to be good looking and sweet and absolutely, adorably naïve, was no reason to get her hopes up. Any immediate connection she could’ve felt to Joshua Hunter was pure misunderstanding on her part and she knew that. Besides, how could she not get confused? The last time a real man had been in her life, client or not, she had still been in college. She pulled her car door open and climbed into the seat.
“Well, that’s fine. Let’s just get this over with,” Greg said.
“You know I’m supposed to go in there and convince this woman there’s nothing to be scared of.”
“I thought you said her house was haunted.”
“She claims her house is haunted, and all according to her imaginary daughter. I’m supposed to convince her that it’s all in her head.” She gave Greg a knowing look. “But then again, Mr. Hunter’s a bit of a skeptic when it comes to these kinds of things. I’d rather take her word over his, if you know what I mean.”
“As you always say, you have no respect for rationalists.”
Alison started the car. “I have nothing against being rational. I do have something against ignorance. Not believing in spirits and afterlife is the same thing as saying you don’t know how to read. The book still exists either way. You’re just too stupid to do anything about it.”
“There’s a difference between stupidity and ignorance,” Greg reminded her.
“Not to me.” She pulled her car from her driveway and onto the narrow road. If there was one thing she hated most, it was ignorance. True idiocy couldn’t be helped, while ignorance was a self-inflicted disease. “Anyway, she sounded pretty sane over the phone. I’m going to go with my gut instinct and take her seriously for now.”
“Hey, and if she’s right and her place really is haunted, then you got a story to tell her brother, right?”
“You know that’d never happen. Unless something directly approaches him and bites him in the ass, I highly doubt he’s going to change his way of thinking,” she said. “Some people believe anything you tell them, and everyone else, they don’t believe you even when it’s happening right in front of them.”
“I know that’s true,” Greg agreed.
A red traffic light appeared, prompting her to stop. When it had turned green again, she made a left turn onto Irving, the street Emily lived on. The woman didn’t live to far from her, which was always a relief. Spending less on gas was always good news. She gestured to the road they were following, lined with attractive two-story homes and large, perfectly manicured yards. “What is she? A doctor?” she commented.
Greg whistled. “Wish I lived in one these when I was alive. I could barely afford my one-bedroom apartment.”
Alison glanced over at him. “You were some kind of machinist, weren’t you? I thought they made pretty good money.” It explained the outfit he always had on when he appeared. The clothing he had died in. Dusty cargo pants ripped at the knee and a black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. They were his work clothes. She always wondered what he’d look like if he were alive, given a clean shave, had a good shower and dressed up in something presentable and flattering.
“It was decent but it wasn’t great or anything. I only did it to pay the bills. What I really wanted to do was work for an animation studio. Too bad I died so soon. I think I really could’ve made something of myself.”
“You said you went to an art institute, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but it didn’t get me anywhere.”
“Maybe you didn’t try hard enough.”
“That’s true. I didn’t get to try as hard as I wanted to. Working was a lot more important at the time. There were a lot of things that had to get paid off so the place’d be ready for when...” He stopped himself, looking uncomfortable as he stopped talking. He turned his head to the window, looking outside.
Alison waited for him to elaborate, which he didn’t. Ready for what? Why did he stop? Was it a touchy subject for him or something? He was always doing this. He’d tell her half of it and never finish. No wonder she didn’t know anything about him. He was too secretive. “Well,” she pressed. “What were you getting the place ready for?”
Yeah right. That was fine. If he didn’t want to talk about it she wasn’t going to force him. She pointed to the over-sized house in front of them. “That should be it there.” Greg nodded, looking glad to talk about something else.
From the looks of it, Joshua Hunter had been right. The place was far from being rustic and haunted-looking. On the contrary, it had a fresh coat of white paint, a sunny yard and looked to be in just about perfect condition. “No wonder he doesn’t believe her,” she said. “This house is too beautiful.”
“It’s nice, all right.”
She parked her car, climbing out and scoping out the place. The front yard was carefully tended, with a blooming flower bed and small, manicured bushes on either side. She watched as Greg floated through the driver’s seat and through the driver’s side door, appearing beside her. “Let’s go in,” she said quietly.
She made her way up the walkway to the front door. Just as she was about to hit the doorbell, the door swung open, revealing a thin, young woman in her late twenties. Guess she was expecting them. “Miss McCarthy?” she inquired.
Alison nodded. “I’m here to investigate the haunting.”
Lifting a thin arm, Emily Burt motioned for Alison to come inside. She said, “I’m so glad you’re here. You have no idea how worried we’ve been. I knew you’d be able to help us. I just felt it.”
“You and your… daughter, right?” Alison asked, just to make sure.
“That’s right. My daughter’s been terrified since the whole thing started, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.” She looked at Alison, making Alison notice just how pretty the young woman’s face was. She was as pretty as her brother was, with the same blond hair and blue eyes. “I know what you’re thinking. My brother must’ve said a lot of bad things about me. I know he thinks I’m crazy. But he’s not like you and me. He doesn’t believe in the dead. He thinks you just disappear when you die. But I don’t think that’s true at all.”
The woman’s matter-of-fact attitude came as a surprise. It took Alison a minute to regain her composure again. “It’s tough,” Alison agreed. “It can be really hard explaining the after-life to skeptics.”
“I know,” Emily sighed, running a hand through her long hair. “I feel like I’m completely alone here. Like there’s no one I can really talk to about it.” She glanced around. “Well, nothing’s happened today yet. So, that’s a good thing, right?”
“It might be,” Alison said. She stepped away from the woman, wanting to get right to work. “I’m going to walk around a little bit,” she stated. “So I can try and get a feel for the place. I’ll tell you if anything comes up.”
Emily nodded enthusiastically. “Great. Just… just call me if you need me. If you run into my daughter, just tell her I’m in the living room. I already told her you were coming, so don’t worry about surprising her.”
“This woman’s nuts,” Greg muttered.
Alison made a face at him. She hurried toward the stairs, glancing behind her to make sure they were out of earshot. “Can you be nice,” she complained finally.
“Her brother was right,” Greg continued. “There’s no one else here. There’s no little girl and no spirits. I already checked the place out while you two were talking.”
“I have to see for myself. You know how much I hate going by hearsay.”
“You’re not going to find anything,” Greg replied. “I already checked all the rooms.”
“Just give me a minute. I need to see for myself.” She glanced around the enclosed staircase, looking up at the high ceiling and to the second floor. “Well, let’s get going with this,” she murmured. She headed upward, taking peeks and turns here and there. Nothing yet. Maybe they were hiding.
She reached the top of the stairs, knocking on the wall gently with her knuckles. “Hello, hello,” she called out lightly. “Anyone here?” She moved further down the hall, poking her head into the bathroom and scanning the tiled walls. “Hello?”
Not even a whisper sounded in return. If the spirit was just hiding, it was doing a damned good job of it. She wandered into the master bedroom, taking in the sight an expensive bed set with matching dressers in birch and cherry. A large and elaborate rug in burgundy red lay across the hardwood floor. She kneeled to the floor, glancing under the bed. “Come out, come out,” she called.
“I told you know one was here.”
Alison jumped at the sound of Greg’s voice. She gave him an irritated glare as she turned to look at him. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”