St. Louis, Missouri; USA. Present Day...
The Epp’s dark-blue minivan pulled up on the curb closest to the only house they could find in the College Hill neighborhood at the price range for their working-class status—sturdy Craftsman, three stories with a wraparound porch; wooden floors predominating, and a decent-sized yard. April took a long look at the surrounding barrio; sparsely-developed, red-bricked houses, and little action that she could see. It was a far cry from the bustle of the family’s current location at Boulevard Heights; nearly eight times the population as College Hill. But with the housing market still recovering from the Great Recession, the house was going at a fraction of what it should during normal market realities. After seeing it in the Post-Dispatch the other day, April had suggested to Edan to swing by with their son, Dan, and take a look at the house.
Christine Lotner, a latter middle-ager with spiky hair and trendy spectacles, warmly greeted them in the vestibule as two sets of families bid her their goodbyes. The wooden floors creaked with each step the Epps took, but that was expected with a hundred-year-old house. Otherwise, the floors had been recently re-waxed and the rest of the vintage setup in the house spoke to the Epp’s love for the vintage genre.
“So, what do you guys do for a living,” Christine asked as she held back in the living room while April examined the kitchen. Their voices echoed, the house was so clean and sparse!
“Well, Edan’s a maintenance supervisor at the airport—“
“—and I’m a beautician.” April finished looking at the kitchen and joined the real estate agent in the living room; both standing in the middle while Edan and Dan passed by and went up the stair to the second floor. April noticed that Christine’s demeanor showed a hint of hesitation, but could tell that she was trying to hide it. April knew that it was not simple chit-chat. The agent was trying to size up the couple and see if they were able to afford the historic house.
“Heard of April’s Hair,” April asked conversationally.
Christine got where April was going and began to laugh. But there was no mistaking it; the agent seemed hopeful again. “The one downtown? Of course! So how does it feel to be your own boss?”
“Wish I had done it after graduating from Gateway High instead of going to university in Chicago. Just to get a useless liberal arts degree and then turn around and go to a community college as a middle-ager. I don’t know...seems like I wasted time!”
“Well, you and Edan are here, now. You have your own business. Edan has a secured job. You’re looking at this house as a family, so you’ve done something right, April.” Christine gently touched April on a shoulder and directed her to one of the living room chairs at the large coffee table. When they were both seated, Christine’s face morphed into business-mode. “So, what’s your guy’s max you’re looking to pay?”
“Dad, take a look at this,” Dan said excitedly from one of the two rooms on the second floor of the house.
Edan was in the mid-sized bathroom, admiring the claw-foot tub. “Alright, buddy. I’ll be right there.”
“Whoever’s trying to sell the house must like games...which is kind of weird, because I don’t see a room here decorated for kids!”
Edan frowned at himself in the bathroom’s mirror. “Dan...are you messing with the owner’s things?”
Edan hurried to the master bedroom, where the theme was an old-world, nautical genre. There were a couple of ancient-styled globes, antique telescopes, and model boats from the Columbus era seasoning the bedroom...and in Dan’s hands was a ouija board! An old one, Edan could tell. For the grain in the wood was darkened and scratched and there were no cute, stylized astrological icons on it, like one sees in modern reproductions!
“Dad...dad, what’s wrong?”
Edan snapped out of his paralysis and quickly grabbed the board from his son’s hands. He then frantically looked around the room, saw the large cabinet that was by the doorway; opened one of the middle drawers, and aggressively stuffed the ouija board under some t-shirts, socks, and underwear! Just as Edan shut the drawer, they could her April and the agent stomping up the stairs; their voices echoing. Dan tried to ask his father something, but Edan threw up a shushing gesture with one of his hands.
“What do you think so far, hon,” April asked as she peeped her head in. They were on the way to the third floor.
“I think it’s great...what about you, Danny?”
Dan, as most tweenagers would likely do, simply followed along with his father’s instruction that he silently gave with his eyes and the slightest of a nod of his head. “Yeah...I think it’s pretty sweet.”
April gave a bit of a frown. “Everything ok in here?”
“Yeah...just trying to make sure Mr. Epp, here, learns the etiquette of open houses!” Edan feigned a smile.
April’s eyes cut to Dan, but Dan had already manufactured his smile as well by then. The two women continued up the stairs. When it was clear they were walking around on the third floor, Dan tried, once again, to ask his father of the matter.
“Let’s go take a look at the yard again,” Edan said before Dan could ask anything.
Edan turned and headed for the stairs. Dan, for his part, looked back at the cabinet.
Dan sprinted over to the flight of stairs and followed his father down to go outside.
It took about two more months, but the Epps had received a call from Christine that they would get the house at Nineteenth and Emily. Fortunately for April she was her own boss. She was able to take a few days off from the salon to pack up their old house and begin the move. Edan had to go in, of course, being a supervisor at St. Louis International Airport. Some problems came up with a couple of planes, so he had to do a lot of over-time that particular week. But he still made it a point to help with the move after he got home.
Since it was late Summer and middle school had not yet started for Missouri public students, Dan was able to help April with the packing and then the unpacking at the new house. On this particular night, it was the mother-son team hard at work with the new house.
“We’re going to need more cat food, mom,” Dan said as he tip-toed to reach the curled bag that was atop the refrigerator. The young, gray cat rushed up to him and encircled Dan as he reached down and poured some food into the cat’s dish.
“Ok, sweetheart...I’ll text your father so he can grab some on the way home.” April was just finishing breaking down several boxes after the two of them had unloaded the van from their last trip for the day. She picked up a small box that contained her and her husband’s things for their new master bedroom. “I’ll be upstairs for just a few minutes.”
“Ok,” Dan said, somewhat absently as he stroked the cat.
Being a tweenie, Dan was just old enough to have his own smartphone. It was past his phone-curfew of nine o’clock by several minutes. Usually, Dan would have turned off his cell, but with all the action and excitement of moving he had left it on. He felt his phone vibrate in his back pocket.
“Oops,” he said to himself as he frantically reached to get it. Even a cell phone’s vibration could be heard in another room and he did not want to risk losing the privilege of having one if his mother thought he was receiving a call from one of his friends this time at night!
Dan was going to skip the call until he noticed that there was no number in the call identifier.
The cell kept vibrating.
April placed the items from the small box in different areas of the room. Since she and Edan had purchased furnishings to match their old house, parts of their new home would look a bit mix-matched until they got new things. April moved their tall Tiffany lamp, literally, to all four walls to see where it would go best in relation to their bed—still at the old house, and small nightstand. Then, where should the small flat-screen go? One would reason, opposite of the bed’s headboard. But when she tried it, even the sleek flat-screen stand got in the way of the traffic flow that lead to their bathroom...she would have to wait until they bought new furnishings for the house.
She went back down the stairs and from the top-third of the stairs she saw that Dan had his cell phone to his ear while he stood stiffly in the middle of the living room. She had opened her mouth to scold him for violating hers and Edan’s phone-curfew for Dan when she barely heard him speak.
“...please...please, just leave him al—“ He stopped when he heard one of the stairs squeak under April’s footing. But April could tell by Dan’s cell phone’s light that whoever he was talking to had just hung up on him!
Nothing to lose at that point, April quickly made her way down the stairs and snatched Dan’s cell phone from his hand. Surprisingly to April, he did not protest. She gestured the commands on the monitor for the phone to pull up the most recent call that was received on the smartphone...it showed that it was one of Dan’s friends from their old neighborhood, and the call was made at 10:13 AM. Nearly twelve hours ago!
April’s mind was temporarily stuck in the mud. She saw with her own eyes that Dan did not hang up on that call; nor did he touch any of the icons on the smartphone. But she knew that there was a call on the other end. She recognized the interface on Dan’s phone since she had borrowed it a couple of times herself. In a word, he could not had faked the call.
April had gotten lost while trying to figure this out. She noticed that Dan was looking at her in an almost knowing way. As if he did not expect her to understand what was going on.
“Dan...who were you talking to?”
After a bit of a lingering time, he finally responded. “I don’t know.”
“That’s part of the reason why your father and I told you not to take calls this late at night!” She lowered her voice and gently rubbed one of Dan’s shoulders, to let him know that she was more scared than mad at him. “Baby, you’re old enough to understand that there are people out there who want to do some evil things to children.”
“It wasn’t like that,” he said tersely; his eyes unblinking.
This, in turn, caused April to pause and think. “So you did know who it was?”
“No, I told you I didn’t.”
A frown from April. “Ok, sweetheart. I honestly believe you. But, it sounded like you were kind of begging someone not to hurt someone else...?”
Dan finally broke his stare from his mother and looked at his cell. “Can I have my phone back, mom?”
She wanted to quickly shoot the idea down, but figured he was stressed enough for the night. Especially after spending all day helping her with moving to the new house. But before she handed it back to him, April checked the call history once more, and it was the same information she had read a few minutes ago.
Early the next day, Edan had to get ready for work. He was especially sleepy. He did not get home at the old house in Boulevard Heights until after ten because of the situation with the two planes parked at St. Louis International. One of the situation was resolved by his crew; the other plane had to stay over-night. Their bedroom in the old house seemed foreign to him, with the majority of the items already at Nineteenth and Emily street. Everywhere in the house it echoed a lot! Including the sounds of April getting ready in the bathroom down the hall. He could also hear Dan talking to Mouse, the family’s cat, as he fed her near the kitchen.
“Hey, good morning,” April greeted her husband upon seeing him as she walked toward their bedroom from the bathroom. She was already dressed in her business-casual outfit for the salon; he was still in his jeans from last night.
They gave each other a quick kiss. “I thought you were taking a couple of days off to get some of the smaller things over to the house before we got the movers,” he asked as he walked to the bathroom and began to brush his teeth. Edan noticed that it took April a few seconds longer than it normally would for her to respond.
“Oh, we had a bit of an odd situation last night. I thought I’d give Danny a rest from moving and let him come with me to the shop...you had such a long day yesterday, I didn’t want to bother you with it last night.”
By this time, Dan over-heard the conversation and had gone up to his father; the door to the bathroom yet opened as Edan finished brushing his teeth. April could see from down the hall that Dan whispered something to his father. There was a small pause from Edan, but then he seemed to acknowledged the information and tussled Dan’s hair and let him go watch tv in his room while he waited for April. She was confused by their behavior, lately. Ever since last month, when they were still looking at the house on Emily, when April noticed that the two of them seemed to be holding something back from her...she wanted to press it with Edan, but she knew that it would just lead to an argument. Besides, they all had to hurry out of the house.
Officially named Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, it was always St. Louis International to many locals. Even more colloquial, the Airport. Edan parked his SUV in the employee-designated area and made his way to the maintenance section of the Airport. He barely got a chance to get his cup of coffee from one of the Airport’s venders when he saw Duncan Holt, top manager of the maintenance division, briskly walk his way to him from across one of the concourse. Rotund, in his sixties, and clad in that ubiquitous khakis and polo shirt, Duncan looked pretty intense.
“Heard about one of the planes last night,” Duncan said right away. It was nothing personal. Even when there was not an emergency that was just the way he was.
“Yeah, I was there,” Edan quipped as they both started walking down the same concourse to get to the maintenance office.
“I’m telling you, Edan, buddy, these airline companies are trying to push out these bigger planes too fast! All that competition with the Europeans to see who can have the biggest boat in the air!”
The airport was not at its peak business cycle at the time, so it was easy for the two men to strut their way through in good time.
“Yeah, well, you know how I feel about the industry,” Edan said. “I still say they should nationalize those airliners and let Washington run them!”
“Not this Commie-crap again, Edan! Come on, man; you’ve been in management for what, over three years now?”
“I’m a supervisor...technically, I’m not management. Hey, once a union worker, always a union worker! Besides, it worked for Detroit; why not the airline industry? After things got better, the Feds got out of the car industry and let Detroit run its course.”
Edan’s boss actually nodded at his point. They were diametrically opposite in politics, but they were good friends, even outside of work.
“So, how much longer on the other plane before we can get it out of Six, Twenty-Four,” Duncan asked as they briefly stopped. They were about to go their separate ways at another concourse.
Edan thought for a few seconds, knowing the importance of getting a marooned airline jet off one of the airport’s runway! Even if it was parked by the facilities. “With those couple of extra guys you got me yesterday; we already did a trouble-shoot last night...I’d say by the end of first shift.”
Duncan gave a knowing nod to his subordinate and friend, then gave him a parting pat on one of Edan’s shoulders and he went down the other concourse.
It was not even five minutes after Edan had talked with Duncan when he heard a page over the intercom system for him. He was asked to go to the circulation desk.
“Are you kidding me,” he said aloud, but not quite so loud that others walking the airport could hear him.
By the time Edan made it to the circulation desk, the activity at Lambert-St. Louis had picked up a bit. This time Edan had to dodge a few passengers and their luggage. “So, what’s up, Marie,” he asked the young woman behind the computer.
But before she could respond, a tall, elderly man, dressed formally in a suit and tie with a vest, walked up to Edan with an intense face. His medium-length, white beard gave him a Hemingway look.
“Mr. Epp, I’m Dr. Turnov...” The older man gave Edan a look as if he should know who he was. But Edan merely stared at him. “Paul Turnov. You and your wife had recently bought my former house on Emily Street.”
“Oh, of course,” Edan said, feeling more relaxed. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you, Dr. Turnov. Our real estate agent said that you were in Slovakia while we were making the transaction, so we never got a chance to meet...” Edan noted that his countenance did not lighten. His impression of Turnov was one of those highly educated and well-traveled Americans that could pass as European. “Is, is there a problem? We’ve already signed the paperwork and did our first payments.”
Dr. Turnov studied him for a few seconds. “I’m sorry to come to your employment, Mr. Epp, but I believe you and I both know that you have something that belongs to me.”
Now Dr. Turnov was really starting to worry Edan. “Well, like I said, my wife and I already completed the transaction—“
“Not the house, Mr. Epp; the board!”
Edan froze. First, because he still did not understand what he was referring to. But then it hit him!
“Yes, Mr. Epp,” Dr. Turnov said in an almost whisper. “Don’t even try to deny it. You shoved it into one of my drawers.”
Now Edan’s eyes widen. He looked around the airport and stepped up closer to the older man. “You had a hidden camera?”
“I’ve been a victim of theft a few times, Mr. Epp. You learn not to trust people after so long...the board, please!”
“Well, I hope you have a receipt for that camera of yours, Doctor, because it’s not working right! Ok; I tucked your stupid mojo-board in with some socks. But I never took it with us out of the house! Your camera should—“
“I have your son on record taking it.”
Edan’s eyes were all over the place. Dr. Turnov was watching him with steely eyes. “Well...that makes sense...that explains everything.”
“Explains what, Mr. Epp?”
Edan’s eyes cut to Turnov, wondering within himself. “I have a plane that I’m in charge of getting off the ground, Doctor. If I have time for a five-minute lunch break I’ll call my wife and ask her to get it from my son and she could deliver it to you...it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.” Edan was about to turn to head back to the maintenance section.
Now it was Dr. Turnov’s turn to give a stare. “I suggest you take your cell phone and call her right now, Mr. Epp.”
Edan turned on his heel and nearly rushed up to the old man and met his stare. “Is that a threat, old man?” Some of the workers behind the circulation desk were now watching the two men.
“No, Mr. Epp...I’m trying to save you and your family’s lives!”
Sometimes it pays to have a friend as a boss. Duncan let Edan take the day off after Edan convinced him that it was a family emergency. With a stoic Dr. Turnov standing behind the scenes, no doubt it helped Edan’s case. Besides, it was an international airport. Duncan was able to call in another shift supervisor to take Edan’s spot, because the second plane had to be repaired and make room for other craft on the runway!
Edan and Doctor Turnov both agreed that Turnov should follow Edan from Lambert-St. Louis to the Epps’ new home at Nineteenth and Emily. Edan had called April and explained his encounter at his job with the professor from Washington University. April was incensed! She had two clients at her beauty salon under hair-drying machines and one more waiting, but Edan explained to her it was important that the whole family meet at the new house after April took Dan to the old home and retrieve the ouija board.
April gave all three women at the salon a coupon for a free permanent for their next visit.
When April pulled up into the driveway at the Emily Street house, she saw Edan and the older gentleman standing apart from each other on the front lawn. Not even on the wraparound porch that had plenty of space! Indeed, why were they not in the house at all, April wondered.
Dan had the ouija board in his hands and a guilty face to go with it as he and his mother exited the mini-van. April stopped a few yards away from Dr. Turnov while she let Dan take responsibility of handing back the board to the professor. Whom took it without so much as a thank you—understandably. In one of his hands, he had a smart-notepad, she noticed.
“Ok,” April said with vinegar to the elder man, “you got your ouija board back. Now get out of our lives!”
“April,” Edan said to her; but it was not a scolding tone, she noticed. “While we were waiting for you two, we got a chance to talk...”
April was getting impatient. “And?”
Edan and Dr. Turnov both looked at Dan, which caused April’s eyes to fall on him as well.
“I...I wanted to know why dad was so freaked out when he saw the board. So I took it from the drawer the first day we were here when you and dad weren’t looking.”
“Ok...” April was still impatient.
“I’ve heard of a ouija board before, but I never knew what it was about. So I went online to research it, and...” He looked upon his father with teary eyes, then back at his mother. “I did a séance with Jeff and Phillip, at our old house when you and dad were at work!”
April actually started laughing, and without irony. Edan and Dr. Turnov were unmoving while Dan kept wiping tears from his face as he tried composing himself. “Oh, sweetheart...I thought you were going to tell me that you sacrificed animals or something! Danny, it’s ok to be curious about some things, and what we call the Paranormal is one of those things in life we all have to learn about on our own. So long as you don’t hurt anyone!” Again, she laughed with relief.
As April looked up from talking to Dan, she noticed how quiet the two men were. She blew out a sarcastic sigh.
“Edan, obviously you and I have had this conversation for years, so I know what to expect from you, hon...but, Doctor Turnov; a professor of Humanities at a university? You actually believe all that stuff about ghosts, hauntings...ouija boards?”
“May I show you something,” the professor simply asked.
April’s eyes snapped over to Edan for consultation. Edan solemnly nodded and said nothing. “Ok,” she said with a shrug.
Now Dr. Turnov was using his high-tech tablet. He was swiping and punching icons briskly as he walked over to April and Dan. “I’ve already showed your husband, Mrs. Epp, but I really think you and Dan should see this...on my summers off from teaching, I do investigations of the paranormal. That’s why I was in Slovakia a month ago. As part of my tools, I use a special application that was developed by a friend of mine out at MIT.”
He held one of his hands up for April and Dan to see. With his other hand, he took his tablet and placed it in front of his free hand. And on the screen was something like an X-ray image of his hand, but with far more details of his veins, bones, and flesh in live action! The mother and son both flinched with amazement and surprise. For the first time since he met the Epps, Dr. Turnov actually smiled.
“Don’t worry; with this technology, there isn’t any radiation you have to worry about. I use it to detect...hidden things in life.”
Again, April looked to Edan, but he kept his eyes on the professor as Turnov continued, keeping his hand moving in front of the tablet. “As an academic, I appreciate your skepticism, Mrs. Epp. But let me challenge you, that just as we all know that our bodies have internal organs underneath our skin, what about the organs in the world that are underneath the tangible order of the everyday?”
And with that statement, Dr. Turnov lowered his hand and did a slow, arcing sweep with the high-tech tablet of the Epps’ new home...there were beings! Not alien, but not of this level of Earth, either. They looked human, mostly. Perhaps a trace of once being human? There were scores of them, and some flew around the house as if they were bats, while others glided—as if on skates. Some were idle, and, indeed, were watching the four of them standing a bit further away from the lawn of the Epps’ new house.
The cell phones of the Epps and Dr. Turnov began to ring or vibrate as one, or more, of those creatures tried taunting them. Only, these beings had no need for technology, per se, to call the human’s cell phones. April had now understood the call that Dan got the night before, and it disturbed her that one of these beings had not only communicated with her son, but they all had been among her family while they were moving in!
Dr. Turnov looked at each of them, while he disengaged the ringer to his cell phone, as did the Epps to their own cells. He lowered the tablet, then turned it off and faced the young family with a deeply sympathetic face.
“This is not all your fault, Dan,” he said to them, as they now bunched together as a family. “Some of them got here because of me! A few years ago, I was trying to prove a point to a friend of mine in a dare, and I brought that ouija board over from one of my trips in South America...like you, young man, I conducted a séance with some friends; here, at this house. It wasn’t manifested right away, but...”
Turnov sighed heavily as he looked back at the house. With normal vision, it was completely normal. But they all knew differently, now.
“Now you see why I was moving! I thought that, maybe, if I destroyed the board as I left the house, before another family moved in it would send them back!”
“But you couldn’t because Danny took it before you could,” Edan said, non-accusatory.
Dr. Turnov silently nodded, but gave a subtle smile in his direction so that Dan would not take it hard. “Apparently, each time a séance is held, several of these beings slip into our world with some kind of period of time. I have to admit I’m still learning that portion of the paranormal myself. Even after all these years!”
“So what now,” April asked as she looked at the house. “Are they restricted to this particular house?”
“Given that I brought the ouija board over from South America and did the first séance here, I believe that to be the case. Note that when you and Dan were at your old house last night your son received a call on his phone, as opposed to an outright poltergeist at the old home.”
“Hold on a minute,” Edan said, his eyes wider with some alarm. “What if by destroying the board all you do is trap them here, on Emily Street? Instead of sending them back!”
Dr. Turnov was already nodding his head. “Yes, Mr. Epp, trust me I’ve thought of that. I’ve thought of demolishing the board by fire or crushing it somehow. But what if all that did was blow a hole so big that the portal would extend far beyond your house on Emily?”
None of them could answer that poignant question.
After a long period of thought on the matter, Dr. Turnov finally spoke up. “Mr. and Mrs Epp, whatever you have in that house, consider it lost. I am not going to risk destroying the ouija board and possibly populating society’s level of existence with many more those beings!”
All three of the Epps nodded.
“In the meantime,” Dr. Turnov said as he walked over to his vehicle and placed his paranormal gear in on the passenger side, “I’m sure there are legal ways of bogging down a property so badly that it would never sell on the market...or, razing the house.”
“But others could always build on the land again,” April pointed out.
“Exactly,” Turnov replied. “Which is why I’ll figure something out to make this property and the house undesirable.”
The professor and the Epps started for their respective vehicles when Dan spoke up to all of them. “Make it a ghost story!”
All of the adults stopped where they were. “What’s that,” Dr. Turnov asked.
“Well, it’s kind of like, there’s always that one house in every neighborhood that has a ghost story, and no one ever lives in it, ever...” Danny shrugged. “Just tell people that ghosts live there.”