There had not been any sign of Allen in the three days Shelly had been in the hospital. At first she wondered if somehow the accident had destroyed him. She almost hoped it had, but that hope was fleeting and was replaced by the reluctant admission that she missed him and was worried about him. “Worried about a ghost? Who’d have thunk it?”
There was something so human about this ghost though. He had surprised her in so many ways, from his gentle voice, his playful teasing, sometimes going too far, to his sudden bursts of what she was beginning to believe might be jealousy. Now that was a real surprise. Can ghosts be jealous? How can that be? The longer Allen was absent, the more she realized that even though he was a pest he had also made her feel protected. Sure, he was annoying, doing things like showing up when she was chatting-up guys, but maybe he wanted to keep her from making a mistake? She thought of Jeff. How could I have been so wrong about him? He hadn’t called even once…what does that say about my judgment of men?
Was Allen different. She was beginning to wonder if maybe Allen had somehow also been the one who had saved her from the burning van? How else could she have finally gotten loose from that seat belt? How else could she have escaped before the explosion? It had to be Allen. But where was he? Had something happened to make him vanish forever?
The ride back in Dr. Lasker’s Cadillac seemed unending. Even the smooth riding car could not completely erase the pain that shot through her body, the residue of the horrendous accident. It could also not erase the fear, the agonizing fear of another accident, a fifth attempt on her life by an unseen enemy who she now believed had to be Dodd. But why?
Every time she thought of Dodd, she found it impossible to believe that someone who had seemed so ‘interested’ in her, could really have been plotting to kill her. And yet the evidence seemed to be pointing at the wild-looking Dodd as the perpetrator of at least some of these plots against her. He had been at her side during the bus and gas incidents…he, or someone who looked like him, had forced the van off the road, and incredibly had refused to help her when she was trapped inside. She remembered his face, a strange cold expression on his lips as he stood by watching the flames reach the gasoline. How could this be the same young man who she had wanted to make love to?
The doctor deliberately avoided the back roads, the short-cut, the scene of the accident.
Was it out of consideration for her, trying not to offer reminders of her ordeal, or was it something else, something less altruistic? He gave me the directions to use the short cut? He also gave me his oldest and ugliest vehicle…isn’t there anyone I can trust?
“Allen,” Shelly muttered.
“Did you say something?” Lasker peered in the mirror at her. “I was thinking aloud.”
Dr. Lasker avoided talking about anything that might remind her of what she had been through. The more he thought about it the more he realized he was glad Shelly was too stubborn
to have listened to him about taking a hiatus. This little blond girl was like a treasure of gold if only he could exploit her to best advantage. In attacking her, that idiot Dodd might have actually done me a service for now she is so damn mad that nothing will stop her. Dodd has more or less sealed his fate.
“Tell me about the house,” Shelly said, as she tried to maneuver the seat belt so it didn’t land on the exact spot where the van’s belt had cut into her flesh.
“We have time for that,” Dr. Lasker replied, giving her a fast glance in the mirror again and then returning his gaze to the road. He was not taking any chances Dodd might try to replicate the accident. The fool might try to commit suicide by having me drive into him, the doctor thought as he slowed down just in case. Why couldn’t Dodd have accepted it and simply disappeared like the others had? Lasker sighed. I knew he wasn’t normal when I first laid on eyes on him, but then again, nobody who does this is exactly normal. She certainly isn’t. Dodd had been a terrible mistake. Is this one? He gazed at her again as if the sight of her face so attentive on the road would reassure him. When she caught him looking, he gave her a warm smile.
Shelly was impatient, eager to get started unraveling all the mysteries that were making her life hell lately. “What happened at the house that created this frightening feeling you get just from looking at the photo?”
“Are you sure you feel up to discussing this now? We have time later.” Lasker was surprised, but pleased by her apparent eagerness to get to work. Time was running out for the department. Now that Dodd was no longer active, it had been a long dry spell.
“The sooner the better. You want to know if Allen is real and I want to know that too.
This could show us once and for all.”
Dr. Lasker realized she had changed. The young innocent girl was now humorless, a scientist, a detective, who wanted nothing more than answers. He almost regretted the loss of that child-like quality, her vulnerability, but realized there was little place for that light-hearted personality in a true Ecto. Her new determination might help her survive…might help her succeed where others had failed…where Dodd had failed.
Lasker chose his words carefully, knowing she was analyzing everything he said, hoping he was giving her just enough, but not enough to frighten her off. “There is much we don’t know. The house has a violent history. It has become well known for its effect on all the families that have lived there. They all say it is haunted by evil spirits.”
“And you believe that?”
“There are striking similarities in the various descriptions of the manifestations they have witnessed…experienced.”
He wants this so badly, she thought, so why not give it to him? Let him have this single success and maybe he will realize just how valuable his new assistant and her ghostly friend really are. “From what you said when you showed me the family pictures, I don’t think we can afford to wait. I’m ready now.”
Dr. Lasker nodded. “Very well. As soon as we get back, I will phone the family and see if they will allow us to spend the night in the house.”
“Spend the night?” Shelly had been counting on spending her first night out of the hospital, with its constant noise of paging this doctor or nurse, and the scraping of gurneys on the
tiled floor, in a clean room, a wonderfully cloud-like mattress and a bathtub you could die for.
Die for? Did I really say that?
“Of course we must spend the night there. Don’t you realize most ghostly manifestations have taken place at night?” He had forgotten how little she knew.
Shelly sighed. Just my luck to get a ghost who comes out not just at night, but every dang day. “Allen doesn’t. He’s around both day and night? Is that unusual?” Maybe Allen isn’t a ghost, she thought, but then what else could he be?
If only she knew just how unusual her Allen is, Dr. Lasker thought. “I believe there are significant differences between ghosts that haunt a house, a specific sphere, for example than a so-called ‘unattached’ ghost, a homeless ghost such as Allen appears to be.”
“You think he’s homeless? Could he have been homeless in real life?” Shelly had never thought of this possibility, but it made sense if he was homeless now. She thought of the mugger. Had he been homeless too? Did Allen know him? Was he somehow responsible after all?
“I suppose it is possible that Allen is a homeless spirit. From my extensive research and years of experience working with supernatural phenomena, I believe the routines of a ghost are generally established by the routines they followed in life. So the answer to your question is that, if Allen is homeless now, not attached to a particular place or building, I would guess he might have been in a similar situation in life.”
“Poor Allen,” Shelly said. Poor me. I’m stuck with a homeless ghost. What else don’t I know about him?
There are far worse fates than being a homeless ghost, Dr. Lasker thought, as he steered the car into the nearly deserted parking lot outside Psych Building B. The family in the beautiful white house with its gingerbread shingles and perfectly landscaped lawn were an example of that. As the door of the car slammed shut, Dr. Lasker thought he heard a familiar noise. He listened again as the sound repeated every few seconds. He was almost sure that he heard an axe. But here on campus? It had to be his imagination…a memory…a terrible memory.
“Are you okay,” Shelly asked, seeing the professor frozen, as if in a trance.
His words came slowly. “I think you are right. The people in case study 143 need our help immediately.”
Shelly felt a chill race through her body. “I only hope we can help.”
So do I, the doctor thought as he made a mental list of what they would need. If Dodd was still here, he would have packed the van for me. If Dodd was still here… I’d still need her. Dodd had failed at their earlier attempt.
“It will be okay, Professor,” Shelly said, “Allen will help that poor family. You’ll see.”
The professor sighed. He knew he was sacrificing Shelly, much as he had sacrificed everyone else who had been part of the team…yes, even Dodd. He was tempted again to release her, to protect her, but knew she would not accept…and the greater good called for the
Besides Shelly isn’t Dodd, Lasker told himself. She isn’t personally ‘sensitive’, a true Ecto, but is somehow linked just to one particular entity. That may save her? Dodd’s ‘sensitivity’ was extraordinary, while he was sane, Lasker thought bitterly, but quickly shoved all thoughts of
his ‘disturbed’ assistant aside…in case she could read his mind…or maybe the ghost could? “It will be fine,” he told her, knowing he was lying, but praying it was the truth. At any rate, he could not warn her, and she could not know about his former assistant yet, not until she swallowed the hook. He knew once this ‘hook’ was swallowed, only the rare few could break free. And he was pretty certain, as bright as Shelly was, she was not one of those rare few. She will be mine, he thought, with a mixture of pleasure and some regret, as he watched her shapely body limp toward the building that concealed so many secrets and so much promise.